Chef vs Puppet Major Differences and Similarities

Chef vs Puppet: Major Differences and Similarities

Last updated on 14th Oct 2020, Artciles, Blog

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Prithiv (Sr Devops Engineer )

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Chef vs Puppet:Differences, Similarities, and How to Choose

Today we pit two popular tools for configuration management against one another; Chef vs Puppet. These types of tools help engineers to maintain a consistent configuration in all servers. For instance, all servers might need to have IIS with a binding to port 443 for HTTPS access and the respective firewall rule for inbound traffic. More importantly, if anyone removes the firewall rule, these type of tools will keep consistency by creating the firewall rule again.

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What about database connection strings where you have a different one for dev, test, and prod?

Today’s post is about comparing Chef with Puppet. These are very similar tools that accomplish the same goal: maintaining a consistent state. But, they also differ in how they help users to maintain consistency and repeatability throughout all the delivery pipeline. Lastly, I’ll talk about how to choose one tool over the other one, depending on your needs and the needs of your team.

What is Chef?

The chef is a configuration management tool, providing a way to define infrastructure resources as a code. The user can manage the infrastructure through code rather than using a manual process. So, it is also called now programmable infrastructure. A domain-specific language, used by Chef is pure-Ruby, that is used to write system definition.

The chef can do the following automation tasks:

  • Application Deployment
  • Infrastructure Configuration
  • Network configuration management

What is Puppet?

Puppet is also a configuration management tool that can be used to configure, deploy and manage servers.

Following functions can be performed by the Puppet DevOps tool:

  • Scaling-up and scaling-down of machines dynamically
  • To define distinct configuration for every host by continuously checking and confirming the status of required configuration on the host
  • To provide centralized control over all machines, so that if any changes are made in the configuration that can be easily propagated to all related machines

Chef vs.Puppet-What are the key metrics?

Chef key metrics

  • The chef can be easily integrated with any cloud-based platform like Microsoft Azure, Amazon EC2, Internap, SoftLayer and Rackspace and configure even the new machines.
  • Chef has an active and smart community support that is growing rapidly.
  • Chef supports multiple platforms like AIX, RHEL/CentOS, Solaris, Ubuntu, and all Linux flavors.
  • Giants like Mozilla, Facebook, Xero, Expedia, Rackspace and many others are using Chef just due to its flexibility and maturity.

Puppet key metrics

  • Puppet server can run on any platform that has Ruby installed on it like Microsoft Windows Server, CentOS, Linux or Oracle Enterprise. Not only new OS, Puppet can also run on old OS.
  • Many Puppet developers are there as it is used by lots of people and many contributors are there for Puppet
  • Puppet has good documentation as it has a large wiki page that is managed by its users
  • Many companies are using Puppet like Google, Red Hat, Siemens, and others.
  • It has been deployed even in large infrastructures that have more than 5 thousand machines.

Apart from the above-mentioned key metric differences, there are many other differences between Chef and Puppet that we are going to discuss point by point in the next section of our article. Here you can read the details here if you want to compare both the tools of configuration management.

Major Differences between Chef and Puppet

We can compare both tools based on the following points as mentioned below. Let us discuss all the facts in detail one by one.

chef-and-puppet

Availability

Let us compare Chef and Puppet based on their availability. Both tools are highly available that means that multiple instances of these servers are available so can be used by any number of clients. In case if at any time master server goes down, then another backup server will always be there to provide you access to your required information. Both of the tools handle the failure situation in the following ways:

  • In case if Chef server fails, then there is another backup server will be available that can replace primary server
  • In case of Puppet there the multi-master architecture is followed that mean when any master goes down, another master can immediately take its place.

Easy Setup

Installation or setting up of any tool is the basic requirement and sometimes can be trickier as well. Let’s see how easy is the setup of both tools in the following points?

  • Chef follows master-agent architecture in which Chef master runs on the master machine, while chef-client runs on each client machine. Another component workstation that contains the configuration of all client and master machines are tested and then pushed to central chef server. So, we in short setting up chef server and clients are not an easy task.
  • Puppet follows master-agent architecture in which Puppet server runs on the master machine and Puppet clients run as agents on each of the client machine. One other step in which certification signing is being done between both master and slave machines gets executed, so we can say that again Puppet setup process is not an easier one.

Management

These tools can be differentiated based on management. If we follow management then Puppet and Chef follow pull configuration, in which all configuration is present on a central server from where it is pushed to the desired nodes, while if pull configuration is followed then in that case the configuration is pushed on the client machines. Mainly following configuration is followed in both tools:

  • As the configuration is managed by Ruby DSL, you must be a programmer to manage the Chef configuration. Here client pulls the server configuration and then set up the machine.
  • Puppet uses its own language to manage the configurations so it’s not easy to manage the machines. Here client pulls the configuration automatically from the server. Puppet is system oriented and remote execution is not that much immediate?

Scalability

Both the tools are highly scalable. Scalable means you can add that much nodes as you require. Even if you can handle large infrastructure with these tools and for this, you only need to specify the IP address and hostname of the nodes, you can handle and configure as many nodes as much you require. So, for growing infrastructure, it is recommended to use these tools. So, we can say that these tools are highly scalable.

Configuration Language

Configuration Language for both the tools is different. Where Chef uses Ruby as DSL, so it has a deep learning curve and is quite developer oriented. In case of Puppet, It uses its own domain Specific Language that is not easy to learn, and Puppet cannot be used by general users.

Pricing

Cost of both the tools is different. You need to pay an amount of $137 per node annually to use Chef and you can get everything that you need to build Chef Node. Puppet pricing ranges $112 per node annually, in which you will get standard support plan. You can also take the premium plan in which you will have to pay $199 yearly.

Some other key differences between Puppet and Chef

Puppet is a configuration management and IT automation software that can assist system administrators in managing infrastructure. Where Puppet tool is the product of Puppet Labs, so Chef tool is written in Ruby and Erlang and this is an Opscode lab product. Both the tools differ primarily in technology.

The chef is designed for cloud automation, so on the other hand Puppet technology or tool is designed just for simplicity. Puppet technology is defined to manage the complete lifecycle of the infrastructure along with aiding the system administrator. The tool is also available as open source and launched by Luke Kanies in 2005.

Puppet tool works on two basic approaches, one is Model-based approach and other is the declarative approach. Puppet has following features:

  • The user can access latest Puppet versions freely
  • Its configuration is repeatable
  • As the tool is open source so is powerful, flexible and extensible
  • Normal or routine administrative tasks can be executed with flexibility

As far as Chef is concerned, then Chef is written in Ruby and Erlang languages and one can define infrastructure as a code. It can work on cloud and hybrid network. The chef can be accessed in two levels:

  • Open Source Chef: This version is free, and anyone can download it.
  • Enterprise Chef: To manage large-scale infrastructure this version of Chef is used.

Both Chef versions can be integrated with cloud and can support multiple environment support and text-based search capabilities. Chef follows no assumption model and one can automate and describe the complete processes of the infrastructure as a code that can become part of the agile process on later stages. The definitions are usually written in Ruby.

Puppet is a user application, so Chef is also a user application but can also become part of the application. In Puppet, the code can be executed on both the machines that are master and slave, while in case of Chef the code can only be executed on node machines. Ordered execution is somewhat supported in the Puppet while in Chef it is better supported. Server configuration is easier in Puppet while in case of Chef, server configuration is quite difficult.

Similarities:

Chef and Puppet have similarities in how they manage configurations in servers. Even though both tools work in different ways internally, the result is the same. With both tools, you can define the desired state through code. Both tools work with a master-node architecture where the master is in charge of storing all data, and nodes are in charge of making sure servers always have the desired state configuration in place.

For instance, one of the main goals of using Chef or Puppet for configuration management is that you can define as code what should be the desired state of a group of servers. It shouldn’t matter if you want to apply the same configuration to servers, Chef and Puppet will make sure to implement any change in an independent way. In the same way, we all hit Ctrl + S several times to make sure we’re saving the changes. But where these type of tools shine is that if someone enters the server manually, and changes the desired state of the server, these tools will bring the servers up to date by re-configuring them.

From an architecture perspective, Chef and Puppet look pretty similar since they both use a master-agent architecture. A master node is where all server configurations get stored. Masters for both tools are highly available (HA), but with slight differences—more on this later. Then, for each server that you want to manage, there’s an agent installed that’s pulling the configuration in periods automatically. Agents are always checking that the desired state is compliant, not the other way around. Both tools can manage Linux and Windows servers.

Differences:

I said before that the architecture of Chef and Puppet are similar, but they differ slightly on how they handle HA. In Puppet, the master replicates its data to another server, and they work in an active/passive way. For Chef, HA is handled with three servers in an active/active mode with an API front end that can scale horizontally.

A significant difference between Chef and Puppet is in how they define the desired state configuration for servers. Each tool has its own domain-specific language (DSL). Chef uses Ruby for DSL. You have more freedom to create complex configurations because you’re using a programing language. Chef calls this desired state configurations you write recipes. Anything that you can do with Ruby, you can do in Chef to create recipes like if-conditions or calling other libraries. The benefit to this is that developers might feel more comfortable writing Chef recipes. Moreover, developers won’t feel restricted to a DSL only, adding when defining a configuration.

On the other hand, Puppet has its own DSL, “which was designed to be accessible for sysadmins.” And if you have experience working with Nagios configuration files, writing manifests (their version of Chef recipes) won’t be a problem. You don’t have too much freedom here, but that’s also good from the perspective of having a universal language. Therefore, you don’t need to have a developer background to use and learn Puppet.

Lastly, these tools differ in how you develop and test recipes or manifests. Chef has a workstation including the Chef SDK that you can install in your local computer as a staging environment. You can test the recipes locally, then upload them to the master node. Puppet doesn’t have a workstation, but it has an SDK where you can test manifests while developing them. Moreover, you can apply manifests locally with the puppet apply command.

Premium Features :

Let’s take the comparison, including the premium features, which include other things besides configuration management.

For Puppet, they have Puppet Enterprise that includes the following capabilities:

  • Reports that help with compliance policies
  • Orchestration of application and infrastructure deployments
  • Automate infrastructure provisioning with infrastructure as code
  • Code management to promote infrastructure changes automatically
  • Node management for granular control of servers
  • Role-based access control policies for users
  • Support via email or phone

They also have Puppet Remediate, which is a tool for vulnerability management of your servers. You can get better insights about which vulnerabilities exist in your servers, and apply patches at scale to all servers.

In Chef, besides configuration management, the paid version includes the following capabilities:

  • Compliance and security management
  • Create CI/CD pipelines and manage releases for all the applications
  • Visibility with dashboards across all your infrastructure stack

You get more details on each vendor site, they have pretty good resources to help you get started quickly.

How to Choose :

How to choose between Chef and Puppet is a hard question, and the answer, as always, is … “it depends.”

Whichever tool you choose, it should be a team decision, especially from the ones who will end up working with the tool. A good approach could be considering the team’s background. Folks with a sysadmin background might find it more suitable to use Puppet. Even though they’ll have to learn the DSL, it’s never going to be like learning a programming language. Although, if they have a background in development, folks might like Chef more (even if they don’t know Ruby).

But you should also consider the premium features from each tool. Which of those features will help your organization to reduce silos and waste? Again, it all depends on your needs. I’ve seen that both vendors will always try to level-up with each other with the features. For example, in Puppet, you can create custom functions with Ruby.

And of course, another essential aspect is pricing. I don’t want to include prices here because it fluctuates a lot, and it varies depending on each customer needs. Another reason is that in the case of Puppet, their pricing page doesn’t have a public number but a “Contact Us” button. Chef, on the other hand, its pricing page has numbers, but you still need to contact them. I’d advise you to contact them directly and look for a good offer. Depending on the number of servers you need to manage they could offer you a better price.

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There’s No Silver Bullet :

As a friendly reminder, there’s no silver bullet for a configuration management tool. Both Chef and Puppet are very mature nowadays, and they’re constantly improving their product, making research investments, creating better ways for people to learn their tool, etc. I hope that this comparison has helped you to get a better understanding of how both tools work. Maybe you’re getting prepared for a job interview, or are curious about the main differences and similarities

Final Words

With this blog, you must be sure of the major differences between Chef and Puppet. Now, it should be easy for you to decide which tool is best for your project at any instance. You can also use the combination of the tools whenever needed.

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